Towards a core set of basic emotions

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In this discussion of basic emotions we have tried to argue that the most profitable approach to the question of basicness is in terms of a core set of basic appraisal scenarios that emerge in most, if not all, human societies, and the emotions that incorporate these appraisal scenarios are the basic emotions. However, analysis of appraisal parameters is still very much a theoretical exercise, so it remains fruitful to examine the conclusions from other lines of investigation of basic emotions, such as those looking for distinctive universal signals and distinctive physiology. The motivation for doing so was the hope that we might be able to triangulate from these three areas of research and theorising to come up with a core set of emotions that for our purposes we can describe as basic. The lists of basic emotions that these three approaches have generated are shown in Table 3.2.

HEART RATE

Fear Sad

Fear Sad

LOW: Happy Disgust Surprise

Figure 3.4 Decision tree for discriminating emotions in direction facial action task. (Adapted from Ekman et al., 1983.)

Table 3.2 Lists of basic emotions derived from theory and research looking at appraisal scenarios, distinctive universal signals, distinctive physiology

Appraisal scenarios Distinctive universal signals Distinctive physiology

Table 3.2 Lists of basic emotions derived from theory and research looking at appraisal scenarios, distinctive universal signals, distinctive physiology

Appraisal scenarios Distinctive universal signals Distinctive physiology

Happiness

Happiness

Anger

Fear

Fear

Fear

Disgust

Disgust/Contempt

Disgust

Anger

Anger

Sadness

Sadness

Sadness

Surprise

As can be seen from the table, there is considerable agreement between the conclusions of the different approaches. Extrapolating from all three approaches, there is a core list of basic emotions: anger, sadness, fear, and disgust. In terms of the theory of emotions that we propose, these four basic emotions would involve appraisals of stimuli in terms of current goals and plans being in some way compromised. However, there is also a place for an emotional response to goals and plans being successfully maintained. This we (and others, e.g., Oatley & Johnson-Laird, 1987) would argue is the function of happiness and this should also be regarded as a basic emotion.

Finally, a direct empirical test of the dimensions versus basic emotion category approach was carried out by Power (2006). Following the linguistic analyses of emotion terms by Johnson-Laird and Oatley (1989), a "Basic Emotions Scale" was developed, with each of the five basic emotions of anger, sadness, fear, disgust, and happiness being represented by four conceptually related emotions to give a 20-item scale. For example, the basic emotion of Anxiety was represented by the actual terms anxiety, nervousness, tense, and worried. Respondents were then asked to rate on a 7-point scale how frequently they experienced each of the emotions. The resulting data were analysed using Structural Equation Modelling, which allows different models of the data to be compared directly against each other through a comparison of model-fit statistics. The results showed that simple valence models did not fit the data at all. Although the basic emotions model provided a better fit, the best fit of all included the basic emotions model as first-order factors but also included a higher-order factor onto which all basic emotions loaded (see Figure 3.5). This finding has also now been replicated in a clinical sample (Power & Tarsia, 2007).

The higher-order factor shown in Figure 3.5 provides an interesting question for interpretation. One immediate suggestion is that it represents an "emotionality" factor—that is, that some individuals are simply more emotional than others and that such emotionality is not valenced in terms of whether the emotions are positive or negative but occurs across the board for all emotions. However, in our mind a more interesting interpretation is that such higher-order factors can also be interpreted to show correlations between pairs of emotions, or what we have labelled "emotion coupling". We will return to the possibility of such coupling in Chapter 5 and subsequent chapters.

Factor Model Emotional Difficulties
Figure 3.5 Factor model for correlated basic emotions.

To conclude, we have arrived at a list of basic emotions as follows: anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and happiness. We have proposed that these emotions reflect basic appraisal scenarios, but there is also considerable support from research on behavioural signals and physiology for such a list. In the second part of the book we will consider each of these emotions in more detail in an attempt to demonstrate the vital role of each to our sense of emotional order and to our understanding of emotional disorder. Now, however, we will return to a review of process-based models of emotion generation and maintenance, beginning with network theories.

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